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John Sinclair

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Saturday, 10 December 2005 17:55
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Coldwater Daily Reporter
By Ralph Heibutzki
Assistant Editor

HILLSDALE Former '60s activists Pun Plamondon and John Sinclair teamed up Sunday for an evening of verbal pyrotechnics and political commentary.

About 50 people turned out for the duo's appearance at the Hillsdale Annex, which climaxed a week-long celebration of '60s music and culture.

Sinclair performed for about 70 minutes, reading poetric tributes to jazz pianist Thelonius Monk and rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix while the Blues Scholars improvised blues-rock rhythms behind him.

The band included guitarist Gary Quackenbush; bassist Tom Silvia; drummer Chris Rocco; and baritone saxophonist Tom Spaghetti, all from Ann Arbor.

Sinclair traded jokes and quips with the musicians throughout the performance. At one point, Sinclair gestured to the band, saying, Instant arrangements.  That's the best kind!  Quackenbush responded.

Quackenbush played the role of band conductor by stomping his foot to signal a tempo change, or shouting fast instructions, such as, Change the key from A, to G...I think you got that! 

Quackenbush took the mike himself, for a bluesy version of the Hendrix classic, Purple Haze,  which led into Sinclair's tribute to the late rock guitarist, who died in 1970. Every guitar player in England and America tuned in to his frequency,  Sinclair said. He took the colors of everything, and put it right back into music, where it belonged. 

Sinclair also touched on how he felt about being released from prison for passing a small amount of marijuana to an undercover agent ( Any day can be the lucky one, or the one with your number written all over it').

The late Beatle, John Lennon, wrote a song about the situation ( John Sinclair ), and headlined an Ann Arbor concert in 1971, which is credited with helping win Sinclair's freedom after two years.

Sinclair hailed Lennon's involvement in another poem, imagining him in some place out of space, where no punk with a weapon will ever press a gun in your face again. 

Plamondon told stories and read from his book, Lost From The Ottawa: The Story Of The Journey Back,  which is available through his Web site,

The book is an autobiography, which begins with Plamondon's adoption by a white family an event that caused a lifetime of confusion, because of his Native American roots, he said.

I never connected with my school I didn't understand the pep rallies, and the rah-rah-rah for the team, and all that stuff,  he said.

In 1963, Plamondon became a union organizer. He credits his growing political awareness with getting involved in the White Panther Party, where he got to know Sinclair.

In 1968, Plamondon was indicted for the bombing of a CIA office in Ann Arbor. He fled the U.S for Europe, and Algeria, before returning to this country, to face the charges.

Plamondon said an appeal that he filed in his case has relevance to criticisms of the Patriot Act, which passed in 2001, and gave sweeping new powers to police.

When Plamondon's lawyers filed pretrial motions, to learn what evidence existed against him, the (U.S.) government said, 'Yes, we have wiretaps of Mr. Plamondon,'  Plamondon said. They said, 'It's not evidence, because it's an ongoing political investigation. 

Plamondon's lawyers filed an appeal, saying, you're supposed to investigate criminal activity, not political activity,  he said.

A federal judge agreed, and the decision was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court which recognized that executive power can be abused, Plamondon said.

That's in contrast to the U.S.'s presence in Iraq, which Plamondon criticised as saying, We're the biggest, baddest motor scooter, and by God, they're gonna do it our way. 

Relaxing after the show, Sinclair said he doesn't have any special plans except to write and perform for whoever wants to hear him.

Sinclair figures he's about two-thirds through his biggest project writing poems to Monk's 150 recordings. He's spent almost 20 years on the project, which isn't done for lack of effort on his part, he suggests.

If anyone was pounding on my door with an offer of publication, it would be easier,  Sinclair said. It's so frustrating when you do something like this, and you can't get it out it's so much easier to perform them (the poems) with skilled musicians. 

Sinclair plans to visit New Orleans next week, and help out his daughter. Having spent roughly a decade there after his Detroit days, the Big Easy holds a special spot in Sinclair's heart.

Asked how he felt about watching news coverage of Hurricane Katrina, Sinclair said, Oh, man, I cried I just sat down, and cried, and cried. It's so horrible because one million people had to leave, and go somewhere else. 

Like many musicians, activists and artists from his generation, Sinclair has become something of a living landmark for the state of Michigan.

I'll take it I'm proud of it, and I'll always be proud of it,  Sinclair said, of that distinction. I went to Albion College back in '59, and I used to hitchhike over here (to Hillsdale) for the football games. I feel really rooted here. 

Sinclair also doesn't have any problem talking to people about the '60s, inclding his stint as manager of the MC5. However, he suspects there's another reason for that interest.

They're obssessed with it (the decade), because there's not much else going on today that they like,  Sinclair said. I don't want to do the same thing every day that'd be the kiss of death for me.